American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • The Reorganization of the Post-Cold War Geopolitical Landscape and its Impact on Critical Mineral Supply – A Look at Copper

    Pandemic induced supply chain shocks, increasing resource nationalism in various parts of the world, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exactly one month ago have brought the stakes for securing critical mineral resource supply chains to a whole new level.

    The emerging geopolitical landscape has sent countries scrambling to devise strategies to not only ensure steady supply of oil and gas in the wake of looming cuts of exports from Russia, one of the major global supplier of fuel minerals, but also to secure current and future needs of the non-fuel metals and minerals underpinning 21st century applications, ranging from green energy to defense technology.

    Over the past few weeks, we have looked at how Russia’s war on Ukraine and rising resource nationalism in Central and South America and parts of Africa is affecting the global supply picture for titanium, lithium, nickel and cobalt.

    As we end the week, we’re taking a look at copper – which often gets lost in the media shuffle.

    Followers of ARPN know that while this mainstay metal may be less flashy and headline-grabbing than some of its tech metal peers, it deserves far more credit and attention than it is currently getting.  We have long touted the versatility, stemming from its traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status.  Copper is also an irreplaceable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs over wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid.   The average EV requires four times more copper than gas powered vehicles, and the expansion of electricity networks will lead to more than doubled copper demand for grid lines, according to the IEA.

    The West’s severing of ties with resource-rich Russia has sent commodity prices skyrocketing. The Wall Street Journal this week cited a Morgan Stanley’s analysis which found that “there isn’t enough thermal coal, nickel, aluminum or palladium being produced to meet global demand this year. Other markets including copper, which were forecast to be in balance before the Ukraine conflict, could face material shortfalls if Russian supply dries up.”

    This development comes less than a year after analysts warned that the world might be “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits, suggesting that prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025, and pointing to inventories at levels last seen 15 years ago.

    As the Wall Street Journal points out, there is no easy way out of the critical mineral resource challenge, as “years of underinvestment in new mines means they don’t have additional production that can be brought on quickly. After a decadelong focus on productivity, existing operations are mostly running at full tilt. Difficulties in getting permits to build pits and community opposition have slowed developments in some countries, and scuttled projects in others.”

    And, as Laura Skaer, a member of the board of directors of the Women’s Mining Coalition and former director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, outlined in a piece for Morning Consult last summer, the challenge is not just mining, but also processing:

    “Last year, the United States imported 37 percent of the copper we used. China already refines 50 percent of the world’s copper and the United States only refines about 3 percent. National security experts have warned that relying on China for critical supply-chain materials like refined copper poses a serious threat to America’s national security interests.” 

    However, from a U.S. supply perspective, there is reason to be optimistic. While snubbing the material again for its updated Critical Minerals List, the Biden Administration has recognized copper as an integral component of Lithium-ion battery technology, in the context of being what we have called a “gateway metal” to other critical materials, and for its “use across many end-use applications aside from lithium-ion cells, including building construction, electrical and electronic products, transportation equipment, consumer and general products, and industrial machinery and equipment” in its 100-Day Supply Chain Review report.

    Coupled with new reports that “US regulators are warming to approving new domestic sources of electric vehicle battery metals, as Washington bids to avoid a reliance on strategic minerals imports similar to that on crude oil,” this is an encouraging development. In this context, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and other officials have been cited as stating that “the need to domestically produce more metals is rising as EVs go mainstream,” but that new mines must not harm the environment.

    This is where the private sector is increasingly stepping up to the plate, with the latest case in point being a deal between Lion Copper and Rio Tinto America for a stake in copper assets in Mason Valley, Nevada, where the stakeholders will “explore the potential commercial deployment of (…) Nuton copper leaching technologies in a historical mining district with a large copper endowment,” and look to not only “unlock additional copper, but to also deliver low carbon production with significant environmental benefits through reprocessing old stockpiles and tailings, and reducing waste from new and ongoing operations.”

    ARPN has featured other examples of industry harnessing advances in materials science and technology to help develop domestic critical mineral resource supplies while maintaining and advancing sustainable mining practices on numerous occasions, and will continue to do so.

    As the National Mining Association’s Rich Nolan wrote earlier this week for RealClearEnergy:

    “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its effect on global commodity markets has added new urgency to get to work. Fortunately, our challenge is one of policy, not geology. We have the resources to supply significant domestic production for many of the metals most essential to advanced energy technologies.” 

    Now is the time to get serious about harnessing them.

  • Another Wrinkle in the EV Race – To Address Semiconductor Shortage, Let’s Begin at the Beginning

    Over the past few weeks, we dove into the materials challenges associated with the accelerating EV revolution, outlining that while general awareness of immense mineral intensity of the green energy transition is growing, misconceptions in terms of how to address the challenge persist, with too many still subscribing to the notion that we can recycle, substitute and “friend-shore” our way out of the conundrum.

    Meanwhile, remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo made in late November point to another wrinkle in the U.S. push to catch up in and ultimately win the EV race.  Commenting in the context of a push to shore up support for the congressional “Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act,” legislation aimed at taking on China, Sec. Raimondo told the Detroit Economic Club, a nonprofit business group, that automakers ambitious EV plans are threatened by the ongoing semiconductor shortage.

    “As companies like Ford and GM compete to grab a foothold in the electric vehicle market, we know that innovation in the American battery market will be stifled if we aren’t also investing in domestic semiconductor innovation at the same time,” she said.

    Sec. Raimondo had also told Detroit News before the Detroit Economic Club event that the Biden Administration’s plans for 50% of all vehicle sales to be electric by 2030 depends U.S investment in semiconductor production, stating that “[i]f we’re serious about restoring American leadership in the global economy, we have to start by rebuilding our semiconductor industry so we can meet the demands of this moment.”

    As followers of ARPN know, supply chains for these highly specialized high-tech components are extremely complex, and, as outlined in the White House 100-Day Supply Chain Report, require “hundreds of essential inputs, many of which are raw materials, chemicals and gases. These materials have their own complex supply chains, and likely contain hidden choke points that could disrupt production.”

    In light of these complexities, while it’s great to see the Biden Administration focused on the issue, the same caveats that apply for critical mineral resource supply chains apply with regards to semiconductors.

    As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty pointed out last year against the backdrop of excitement over the recent announcement of Arizona as the site for Taiwan Semiconductor’s new next-gen semiconductor factory to manufacture their new 5-nanometer (5nm) chips: “the first word in supply chain is ‘supply.’”

    And while the Biden Administration plans to “bolster its partnership with the private sector in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and R&D,” and “strengthen engagement with allies and partners to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations, increase production, and promote increased investment,” stakeholders must begin at the beginning – the sourcing of the metals and minerals that go into the manufacture of semiconductors, like Gallium and Indium — and incorporate strategies to promote the domestic development of these materials into their overall approach.

    Thankfully, the U.S. is not only in the fortunate position to have known resources for both Gallium and Indium (in Texas and Alaska, respectively), both metals can also be “unlocked” in the “co-product” development of their Gateway Metals Aluminum (for Gallium) and Zinc and Tin (Indium) — another reason stakeholders should focus more on the inter-relationship between Gateway Metals and the critical co-products they unlock.

  • Two For Four — New Critical Minerals Draft List Includes Two of Four Metals Recommended For Inclusion by ARPN in 2018

    With the addition of 15 metals and minerals bringing the total number up to 50, this year’s draft updated Critical Minerals List, for which USGS just solicited public comment, is significantly longer than its predecessor. This, as USGS notes, is largely the result of “splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries [...]
  • “Supply Chain” Begins With “Supply:” Department of Commerce 100-Day Report Chapter on Complex Semiconductor Supply Chain

    Current news coverage may have you believe that when it comes to critical minerals, all we’re talking about is Rare Earths and battery tech metals, such as Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel and Graphite. However, while certainly extremely important for 21st Century technology, these materials and the sectors in which they find key applications only represent [...]
  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that “much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.” In this [...]
  • Canada’s Just-Released List of 31 Critical Minerals Includes Key Gateway Metals

    As demand for critical minerals is increasing in the context of the global shift towards a green energy future, Canada’s Minister of Resources Seamus O’Regan Jr. earlier this week announced the release of a Canadian list of 31 metals and minerals deemed critical “for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies—minerals that can [...]
  • Materials Science Revolution Continues to Yield Breakthroughs – a Look at Scandium

    Did you turn on the TV to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon take off en route to the International Space Station yesterday only to be disappointed?  The long-awaited historic first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly nine years has been postponed due to weather, but there’s a still good chance we will [...]
  • ARPN’s McGroarty for The Hill: Strength through Peace – Dropping Sec. 232 Tariffs on Aluminum and Steel Could Strengthen U.S. Position vis-a-vis China

    In a new piece for The Hill, ARPN’s Dan McGroarty zeroes in on the inter-relationship of trade and resource policy, which has been an increasingly recurring theme over the past few months. McGroarty argues that the removal of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum coming from Mexico and Canada, which have been a “dead weight on [...]
  • Aluminum and the Intersection of Trade and Resource Policy: U.S. Senator Discusses Need to Remove Sec. 232 Tariffs

    In an interview with Fox and Friends, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) discusses the path to what he terms a major trade victory for the U.S.  In order for this to happen, he believes removing the Sec. 232 tariffs from the USMCA, the new and yet-to-be-ratified U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal to replace NAFTA struck in [...]
  • Sustainable Sourcing to Support Green Energy Shift – A Look at Copper

    Followers of ARPN will know that Copper is more than just an old school mainstay industrial metal.   We’ve long touted its versatility, stemming from its traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status. Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, scientists are constantly discovering new uses – with the latest case in point being [...]